Can a Utopian Desert City Founded by a Billionaire Succeed?

Imagine a futuristic city deep in the desert. It runs on fully renewable energy and provides all residents with equal access to high quality education and health care, regardless of their income. It even provides transportation for everyone, using autonomous vehicles, of course.

Is this a sci-fi fantasy or a reality?

Yes Marc Lore, the billionaire and former Walmart executive, in its own way, it will be realized. He imagines that his modern utopian city, Telosa – a name he derived from the ancient Greek word for “highest purpose”, telos-will be built in Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Texas or the Appalachian region. He considers the proposed desert city, first announced last year, to cover 150,000 acres for 5 million people.

The initial phase, which is expected to cost $ 25 billion, will allow 50,000 residents to move in by 2030, according to the Telosa website. Completing the construction of the entire city is expected to cost $ 400 billion.

Lore is not the first billionaire to design a futuristic city …Bill Gates‘an investment group, for example, would be project one in Arizona– and there have been many such attempts in the past. However, few utopian cities in history have succeeded.

Critics are skeptical that building a sustainable city in a desert climate without water is realistic in the long run. Many also question the ethics of having a committee that chooses who can and cannot live there.

The first details are sketchy, but the ambitions and optimism of supporters of the city are dizzying.

“This mission of Telosa is to create a more equitable and sustainable future. It’s our polar star, ”Lore said in a promotional video.

He promises that the city will be as “vibrant and diverse as New York City, combined with the efficiency, safety and cleanliness of a city like Tokyo, combined with social services, sustainability and the governance model. of a city like Stockholm. “

“We are going to be the most open, fair and inclusive city in the world,” he says in the video.

Residents of the proposed town of Telosa will be able to build houses and sell them, although the town owns the land.

(Bjarke Ingels Group and Bucharest Studio)

How would the economic model work? Residents will be able to build houses and sell them.

However, the town of Telosa would own the land, which will eventually generate income through the appreciation. The investments would fund education, health care, parks and transportation, the website says.

Residents will be selected on the basis of diversity and inclusion, a process whose criteria are determined by architects, economists, climate experts and volunteer engineers, according to Lore. However, details on admissions are still unclear.

There is no shortage of skeptics. Urban planning and wealth experts, however, warn that the plan may not be a long-term sustainable model.

“Looks like it’s a pipe dream,” said Harris steinberg, executive director of the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University. “The goals are lofty and admirable, but how to turn that into reality is the big question, and it’s very hard to believe that this vision can be sustained over time. “

“There are very few, if any, models of successful utopian cities that survive the founder or even the first generation,” says Steinberg. “History is not on their side.”

Lore enlisted the help of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), an internationally renowned Danish architectural firm with a reputation for pushing the boundaries, to design the massive city.

According to the first plans, a tower will be located in the center of the city, surrounded by residential buildings, with its health care and cultural centers connected by rail systems, Arch Daily reported.

Can a modern city remain utopian?

The founders of Telosa plan to use renewable energies. Residents will be able to access autonomous vehicles.

(Bjarke Ingels Group and Bucharest Studio)

At a time when the wealth gap has widened due to the pandemic, some wonder how Telosa’s so-called idea of ​​”fairness” – an idealized blend of capitalism and equality – can be achieved.

“What is going to power this society and how does the average person connect in a way that allows people to feel both part of something but also individual? Steinberg said. “What is the economy? What does the service economy look like? Are there retail stores? “

Others are concerned about the environmental sustainability of a project slated for construction in the desert at a time when Arizona and other western states are experiencing severe drought.

Building a city from scratch will require transporting a significant amount of resources, which in itself conflicts with the sustainable ethics of the project, skeptics say. And in addition to securing water rights, planners must ensure long-term accessibility.

“Where will the water come from?” said Sonia hirt, professor of town planning and landscape architecture at the University of Georgia. “There is certainly a lot of empty land in America near water, so why the desert? “

Some wonder if a proposed city like this can exist in a vacuum. Investing in existing communities that have been historically marginalized and seeking equity, rather than building a new city and hoping people will want to settle there, might be more effective, says Dedrick Asante-Muhammad. He is the Head of Membership, Policy and Equity for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

“It’s good to create a community, but you also have to commit to the national policy that will allow this community to thrive,” he says.

Utopias do not have a great record of success

An aerial view of the proposed utopian city

(Bjarke Ingels Group and Bucharest Studio)

Despite the ambitious goals of modern utopias, they do not have a great record of success. There have been a host of unsuccessful attempts at urbanization and technology-driven models of utopia in recent years.

Sidewalk Labs, an urban planning company and a subsidiary of Google, ended The Quayside project last year. He had planned to transform Toronto’s waterfront into 12 acres of high-tech “smart cities,” its CEO announced in a blog post in May 2020.

The ambitious project had been criticized by locals since its inception in 2017, over privacy and intellectual property concerns, The Verge reported.

The attempts at desert utopias have also failed. At the end of the 1950s, a professor of sociology, Nat Mendelsohn, purchased California City, 82,000 acres of land in the Mojave Desert, 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

He intended to turn it into a city with healthcare, businesses, schools, and neighborhoods that would one day rival Los Angeles. But his dream never came true.

Perhaps the best-known example of a realized utopia dates back to the late 19th century, with the English town planner’s Garden City concept. Ebenezer Howard. He wanted to build new towns that merge the country and the urban environment, to create autonomous towns belonging to the community with houses surrounded by agriculture and work.

Howard’s first garden city, Letchworth, north London, is still in operation today, with around 34,000 residents. Letchworth established an economy based on manufacturing and agriculture, with a wide range of local jobs.

The rents of its businesses, offices and industrial premises have been used to reinvest locally for the public good. It offers residents the opportunity to offer certain social services and provides public transportation.

Letchworth’s success has inspired similar communities like Welwyn Garden City and Hampstead Garden Suburb, both located on the outskirts of London.

While plans to provide citizens with healthcare and transportation seem admirable, Steinberg questions whether Lore’s goals are a real possibility for the next decade or just a futuristic aspiration.

“It’s kind of like the Jetsons on LSD,” says Steinberg.

Leave a Comment